Sen. Branden Petersen's cell phone tracking bill becomes law

Sen. Branden Petersen's cell phone tracking bill becomes law
Sen. Branden Petersen

Late last week, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill written by Sen. Branden Petersen (R-Andover) that makes it slightly harder for law enforcement agencies to track cell phones and the court process more transparent.

Though he initially testified against it, James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, says his organization is fine with Petersen's bill and pleased with the opportunity to clear up several public misconceptions in the post-Snowden era of surveillance.

See also:
MNGOP Sen. Branden Petersen to introduce "nation leading" electronic data privacy law

Franklin insists that cell phone exploitation devices such as KingFish and StingRay -- owned by Hennpin County and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension -- do not extract personal data. Such devices merely pinpoint the location of your phone, as a cell tower would, using GPS.

What's more, Franklin says, "We currently do not track cell phones without a court order. Anybody that suspects we are doing that without a court order is incorrect." The way he sees it, Petersen's bill changes nothing. It merely cleans up existing language of the law, replacing the phrase "search warrant" with "tracking warrant."

Petersen couldn't disagree more with this characterization and points to two procedural changes to the law that did not exist before. First, the standard to get a warrant has been raised from "reasonable suspicion" to "probable cause." And second, police will now have to notify cell phone owners who've been the subject of a warrant.

At the start of the legislative session, Petersen had hoped his bill would raise the bar even higher. He scaled it back some because of the pressure law enforcement groups were putting on Democrats.

Moving ahead, the goal will be to stop approaching data as its related to specific types of technology. Petersen has been working with a diverse coalition of people to pen a broader electronic privacy bill.

"We need to start talking in a comprehensive way about what the Fourth Amendment looks like in the 21st century," Petersen says, "in a whole host of areas, whether its financial records, your email, the content of your phone conversations. All of that stuff really hasn't been legislated around."

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]

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